Debate breaks record as most-watched in U.S. history

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NEW YORK — Monday night was the most-watched debate in American history.

More than 80 million people tuned in to see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump face off, setting a record in the 60-year history of televised presidential debates.

The final numbers are still being tallied by Nielsen. But the debate averaged a total of 80.9 million viewers across 12 of the channels that carried it live.

Nielsen traditionally measures viewers who watch via traditional TV at home. That means people who watched the debate at parties, bars, restaurants and offices were not counted.

Nor does the 80.9 million viewer total include PBS and C-SPAN. Ratings for PBS will be available later Tuesday.

Many millions also watched the debate online.

Various live streams on YouTube together registered more than 2.5 million simultaneous viewers. Live streams on other sites also reached millions of people.

This means the actual total audience is significantly higher than 80 million.

On the TV side, CNN and other cable news channels saw big increases over past election years. So did the broadcast networks.

NBC had the biggest audience overall, partly because “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt was the moderator of the debate. Upward of 18 million people watched the debate on NBC.

Nielsen data confirms that viewership stayed high the entire time. Contrary to some speculation, there was not a big drop-off after the first hour of the 98-minute debate.

The first Barack Obama-Mitt Romney debate in 2012 averaged 67 million viewers.

The debate viewership number to beat was 81 million, set in 1980, when Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan debated just once before the election.

Anticipation for the Clinton-Trump meeting had been mounting for months. On Monday night, Twitter said it was the “most tweeted debate ever.”

On Twitter and Facebook, Trump was a livelier subject than Clinton. Twitter said the “final share of conversation around the candidates on stage” was 62 percent for Trump and 38 percent for Clinton.

On Facebook, the results were even more lopsided, with Trump earning 79 percent share of conversation and Clinton having the remaining 21 percent.

Being talked about isn’t necessarily a good thing for a candidate. Most commentators gave Clinton the edge over Trump after the debate.

Still, the post-debate coverage on TV focused on Trump, partly because of surprising and confounding comments he made on stage.